A childhood friend of a Massapequa man wanted in the killing of a North Amityville woman agreed to drive him from Long Island to Alabama, but abruptly changed his mind halfway through the trip when the man made a startling admission, the friend testified Thursday in Suffolk County Court.
For weeks, Thomas Chiappone said, his friend David Newbeck had been saying that he wasn't the one who killed Mandy Jo Jenkins 30 on Aug. 23, 2010. But now, all of a sudden, he said he did it, Chiappone said.
Chiappone, now of upstate Lake George, told a jury that in October 2010, he agreed to take Newbeck, 36, to Alabama. He said Newbeck's mother wanted him to take her son to Ecuador, where Chiappone used to live, but Chiappone didn't want to leave his family.
Newbeck was wanted then in connection with Jenkins' disappearance.
Her boyfriend, Joseph DeFelice, had told police that Newbeck shot her to death on Aug. 23 and hid the body, but Chiappone said Newbeck had told him that DeFelice did it at the apartment he shared with Jenkins. DeFelice was convicted of second-degree murder last fall and Newbeck is on trial on the same charge now before Judge John Toomey Jr.
During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla, Chiappone said Newbeck got a call while they were driving south.
"He looked a little nervous," Chiappone said. "I asked what was wrong. He said they had found Mandy Jenkins' body. I asked, 'Why is that a problem for you if you had nothing to do with it?' "
That's when Newbeck told him that DeFelice was going to shoot Jenkins but couldn't, so Newbeck had to do it. Prosecutors say Newbeck wanted her dead because she wouldn't withdraw an identity theft charge against his girlfriend.
Chiappone said he immediately told Newbeck he wouldn't drive him any farther.
Chiappone was clearly uncomfortable during his testimony. During a break, he stepped down from the witness stand and approached Newbeck's grandfather in the audience.
"I'm very sorry for this," Chiappone told him, near tears. "I'm sorry I got dragged into this. Please forgive me."
Chiappone testified under an agreement with Suffolk prosecutors that promised he wouldn't be charged with hindering prosecution in this case.
During cross-examination by defense attorney William Keahon, he said Newbeck had told him that DeFelice was setting him up take the blame for Jenkins' murder.
Earlier Thursday, two other people testified about what Newbeck had told them after Jenkins disappeared but before he left Long Island.
Kenneth Babbo said he ran into Newbeck at the Neptune Beach Club and asked what was going on.
"You want to know what's going on?" Newbeck replied, according to Babbo. "I killed a [expletive]. But they'll never find the body."
And Sandi Grahn, an ex-girlfriend of Newbeck, said he showed up at her house one evening after Jenkins' disappearance. She said she was shocked to see him and asked, "Aren't you on the run?"
She said she asked him if he was a murderer.
"He said, 'Yeah, I did that.' . . . He said he had to get rid of Joe, also.' "